“Starting our own business has been scary but liberating,” confesses Jace Chaffee. A 2008 Isenberg finance grad with a second major in economics, Jace took the plunge earlier this year along with his brother Kaden Chaffee, who graduated from Isenberg in 2010 with a degree in marketing. Their startup, Boston-based Vine Farmer, imports and wholesales wines from growers in Italy and Germany for sale to retailers and restaurants in Massachusetts. Vine Farmer also collaborates with a second firm in a “retail outpost” for nationwide distribution directly to wine lovers.
The startup, notes Jace, was three years in the making. And the idea for the business gestated earlier in a “slow burn” over an additional three years. Eventually, avocation became vocation. “Jace is both a wine geek and a certified sommelier,” emphasizes Kaden (on left in photo, pictured with his brother). “That is reflected in the 68 different wines that we import.” The brothers source their products directly from fifteen growers in Italy, one in Germany, and one in the United States (Oregon). That entails overseas buying trips with a translator. “It’s a people business—a business based on relationships and mutual respect,” adds Jace. “We look for dedicated stewards of the land who champion its location and vintage conditions.”
Back home, the brothers reserve Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for visits to retailers, including tastings. “It’s a grind. It’s on me to gain the attention of potential customers,” remarks Kaden. “We both go out together. I set things up. Jace knocks them down with his nuanced knowledge of wine.” The business, the brothers continue, is entirely self-financed. “We’re working to build a brand—eventually with a national distribution,” says Jace. “In a pandemic year, you might expect an especially uphill battle,” he muses. “But sales to retailers have been strong, reflecting robust home wine consumption.”
The Road from Isenberg to Entrepreneurship
After graduating from Isenberg, Jace joined Thomson Reuters in analytic consulting positions. His career, he says, largely followed a trajectory of employment with larger and then smaller firms, including startups. In February 2020, he left SHYFT Analytics, a cloud data management provider to the global life sciences industry, to devote all of his energies to Vine Farmer. Before joining his brother, Kaden held account management and product development posts with various corporations, including Avery Dennison.
“Isenberg was strong on academics and career recruitment,” Jace recalls. “We both got jobs right away. That was no mean feat considering how hard the job market was back then. Nothing, of course really prepares you for a startup like ours. It’s all academic until you do it.”